LA water polo team making waves in league

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos High senior Kyle Sandell, above at left with ball, leads his team in scoring.

The Los Altos High boys water polo team is scoring goals at a furious pace this season, averaging nearly 14 per game. However, coach Seth Tasman takes more pride in how the Eagles are playing on the other end of the pool.

“The best thing is our defense,” he said. “Our goal is to hold teams to no more than five goals, and most games we’re doing that.”

After improving to 11-2 overall with Thursday’s 20-5 thrashing of Palo Alto, Los Altos had as many goals as it did steals – 181.

“We press teams extremely hard every game, so even passing the ball is a challenge,” team co-captain Kyle Sandell said. “This physical press has proven to be a challenge for other teams to handle, as right now we are averaging about 14 steals per game.”

Those steals often lead to counterattack goals for the Eagles, who are outscoring their opponents 2-to-1 this season.

So it’s no wonder Los Altos is off to its strongest start under Tasman, who is in his fourth season as coach. The Eagles lead the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division with an 8-0 record, putting them on pace to win the title for the first time in six years and land a lofty seed in the Central Coast Section playoffs.

“So far, so good,” Tasman said. “Our goal every year is to finish in the top four in league and get an automatic berth in CCS. (This year) we hope to win the championship and win a CCS game, which we haven’t done in a few years.”

Los Altos last won the division in 2011 when the squad went undefeated in league. The Eagles finished fourth last year and failed to win a playoff game for the second straight season.

Sandell is optimistic that the streak ends this year. He said the Eagles “have shown our ability to compete with the top teams in our league, so we are hoping to make a deep run in CCS.”

Perhaps no player on the squad has a more prominent role in making that happen than Sandell. He has a team-high 67 goals, and his 24 steals rank second to co-captain Eric Warmoth (42).

“Kyle is having a great start to his senior year,” Tasman said. “Last year he was out for 75 percent of the season recovering from a back injury, so he has a lot of fire under his belt. He’s a strong leader and a force in the league.”

The 6-foot-3 Sandell “is a big, strong set player,” the coach added, and “he’s the focal point of our offense.”

When opposing teams focus on stopping Sandell, the Eagles turn to several other players for goals. Five of them have already reached double-digit goals for the season: Warmoth (39), Adam Hollingworth (14), Owen Brunner (13), Yoel Feinberg (12) and Kyle Bistrain (11).

Warmoth is not only second on the team in goals and first in steals – he also leads Los Altos in assists with 16.

“Eric is our facilitator in the water,” Tasman said. “He’s also our top defensive guy – we put him on the other team’s best player, and he does a phenomenal job shutting him down.”

The coach praised the senior’s communication skills as well, a sentiment shared by Sandell.

“My co-captain, Eric Warmoth, does an amazing job of making sure that everyone knows exactly what to do and where to be during games,” he said.

Many of the team’s other key players are underclassmen. That includes freshman Brunner, “who is holding his own,” Tasman said, and sophomore Bistrain. Hollingworth is a junior, as is goalie Greg Roper.

Sandell said Roper “has had a phenomenal season, which gives us the confidence to be really aggressive on defense.” Tasman noted that the goalie has multiple games with 10 or more saves.

Most of the team swam in the spring and played club water polo over the summer, which Sandell and Tasman agreed has made the Eagles better this fall.

“The kids have been working really hard,” Tasman said. “They are committed to the program year-round.”

Sandell added that Los Altos “really came into this season well prepared and more mentally ready” than previous years.

Tasman said the Eagles’ biggest win of the season came Sept. 21 at Gunn, where they rallied from a 7-2 halftime deficit to prevail 10-9. Warmoth scored the game-winning goal with three seconds left.

Defending champ Gunn now sits two games back of Los Altos in the standings.

The Eagles are slated to host Lynbrook 6:45 p.m. Thursday in league play.

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